Christianity, the New Testament, and the World of Jesus’ Jerusalem Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein 1 - The Bible (See: Selected Readings from the Holy Bible) Thanks to Christianity, the Bible has become the most important document of the Western tradition. Early Christians adopted the Hebrew holy writings and eventually called them the Old Testament; in addition they wrote 29 new books, which include the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of the Apostles, several books of Epistles (letters) and the Revelation. Thanks to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, the Old Testament, which was the sacred writings of the Jews and which included many prophecies about the coming of a Messiah, got spread along with the new sect. The Jews were really not a very large group at the time, but the Old Testament became as important as the New Testament, and both comprise the Bible. But one thing to remember is that the Bible has been translated and retranslated and retranslated, into and out of the vernacular of many cultures. Exact and literal interpretations are not recommended because of this; for example, the concept of the “Virgin birth” is founded on a mistranslation of a word that originally meant “young woman.” Further, many books did not get included in the official volumes of the Bible, and some of these are available as the biblical “apocrypha,” or among those writings found in Qumran in 1947, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, or in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, known as the Gnostic Gospels. Nevertheless, the Bible is important as a religious document, as an historical text, as a literary masterpiece, as a moral template, and as a guidebook for settling arguments through divine guidance. It has been said any side of any argument can find some kind of support in the Bible; hence, early slave owners and abolitionists in 19th century America used the Bible to support their sides of the slave-owning question. Thanks to Alexander the Great, the then-known world had been united into one empire, and the common tongue of the times was a dialect of Greek, called Koine. The Jews and early Christians may not have spoken Greek, but St. Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) did; he was a Greek Jew who became the public relations man for the new sect of Christianity. However, as your textbook indicates, there were two factions in the early church that derived from the teachings of Jesus, and information being gleaned from the Dead Sea Scrolls is fleshing out the details of this schism. One faction might be called the Jerusalem church, and governed by Jesus’ brother James, known as James the Just. At one point Jesus told his followers, “When I am gone, go the my brother James the Just, for whom heaven and earth came into being.” Clearly, at that point, Jesus was turning the governance of his sect of Judaism over to his brother James. (Many scholars have suggested that the statement Jesus made concerning building his church on the “rock” of St. Peter (Simon) was added to the story at a much later date.) I certainly recognize that it is not Christian orthodoxy for most current sects to believe that Jesus had any brothers or sisters—if his mother was a virgin, it was supposedly impossible for him to have had siblings. Nevertheless, even the New Testament as it currently stands plainly states that he did have brothers and sisters, so his turning his disciples over to the care of his blood brother James would have been only natural. I would also like to state something that many of today’s Christians do not seem to realize—the fact that Jesus was a Jew. He was a Jew when he was born, and he was a Jew when he was crucified. And as he clearly indicates in his Sermon on the Mount, he did not come to abolish the Jewish law or to start a new religion. He came to “fulfill” the law. Hence, the church that grew up around his teachings after the death of James the Just was not at all what Jesus had intended to establish. For those who are brave enough to study the strong meat of truth, I recommend the excellent study of the times of Jesus by Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books, 1997. The implication of the large body of current research is that Paul had a falling out with James because James, like Jesus, wanted any convert to their sect to be purified and to convert to Judaism. Paul instead wanted to convert the Gentiles. After the death of James, who seems to have been thrown down from the top of the Temple at Jerusalem, Paul, who was an excellent PR agent, promoted his brand of Jesus’ teachings, which ultimately developed into Christianity and a little more than three centuries later became the official faith of the Roman Empire. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily